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In Search of Paradise Lost in Tierra del Fuego

In southern Chile, the native Yaghan are all but gone and the region’s glaciers are in danger of following in their footsteps

Far, far south, at the tip of Latin America, some tens of thousands of years ago, the retreat of the massive Patagonian Ice Sheet began to expose the contours of the Strait of Magellan, separating Tierra del Fuego from the South American mainland. By the arrival of the first canoe people between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago, the extent of the ice — which would once have covered the entire tip of southern Chile — had already shrunk dramatically. Over the millennia that followed, the Yamana, or Yaghan — the world’s southernmost ethnic group, which once inhabited the Beagle Channel from the Brecknock Peninsula in the northeast, to Cape Horn in the southwest — adapted and evolved to live in reciprocity with this wild and unforgiving landscape, famous for the wrath and unpredictability of its seas. Yet all this would change in 1520, when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan first set sight on the strait that would go on to bear his name. For the Yamana, the arrival of the European colonizers set off a chain of events that ultimately proved fatal. Today only one full-blooded Yaghan survives.

photo of Patagoniaphoto James KellyRomanche Glacier in Chile's Alberto de Agostini National Park. Climate change is taking its toll on the region's glaciers.

An unspoilt paradise until well into the nineteenth century, in less than two hundred years, Tierra del Fuego has seen its Indigenous inhabitants wiped out by colonization, and the effects of climate change now threaten the erosion of its glaciers. Perhaps unconnected at first sight, both processes — the retreating glaciers, on the one hand, and state-sponsored ethnocide, on the other — share their roots in the advent of our modern world, upsetting the finely tuned balance that allowed the region’s spectacular landscapes to evolve in a gradual process over many thousands of years, together with their peoples and ecosystems. With the Yaghan now all but gone, the glaciers are in danger of following in their footsteps.

The Yamana were a nomadic people whose main source of subsistence was the sea: Their diet revolved around the gathering of shellfish, such as mussels, whose shells were discarded in giant mounds, which can still be seen today at Bahía Mejillones on Navarino Island. This staple was supplemented by berries, eggs, sea birds, seals, and occasionally guanaco meat. They lived in small family groups, although from time to time, a beached whale would provide a feast around which …more

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Abandoning Paris Climate Accord Marks Trump’s Return to Angry Populism

In Trump’s darkest speech since the ‘American carnage’ inaugural address, the world was presented as something to fear

Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate change treaty is the most emphatic answer to date on the question the rest of the world has been asking since January: What does “America first” mean?

“I am elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the president declared in the White House rose garden, after a jazz group had entertained the invited audience.

photo of smokestackPhoto by Dave Sizer On June 1, Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.

With those words, the US joined Nicaragua and Syria in rejection of an accord signed by 195 states which was voluntary and open to amendment from within.

The UN climate change envoy, Ireland’s former president, Mary Robinson, declared the decision made the US “a rogue state on the international stage.”

To US allies, Trump’s departure is an entirely needless piece of diplomatic and environmental vandalism, performed on live television for ratings.

For Trump’s embattled administration, however, ratings are now all-important to stave off disillusion among his core voters, who needed to hear to more of the combative populist they had warmed to on the campaign trail.

But emphatic does not necessarily mean coherent. On a string of issues, Trump has pulled back from delivering some of the bold unilateralist policies he had used to stir up crowds during the campaign.

He has not dismantled the nuclear deal with Iran, nor has walked out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), and he has opted against moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would have been seen as a provocation in the Islamic world and beyond.

But Thursday’s climate announcement marked a return to angry populism. It was Trump’s darkest speech since his “American carnage” inaugural address, once more portraying a nation in crisis and facing a global conspiracy against its people. The world was presented as something to fear rather than to aspire to lead.

The battle between continuity and radical departure swings back and forth each day between the self-styled populist “disruptors” led by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, and the “traditionalists” brought on since the election to lend gravitas to the presidency, such as Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state; the national security adviser, HR McMaster; and the defence secretary, James Mattis.

Between these two camps and somewhat above them is the family, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. But their influence …more

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US Climate Movement: Funnel Money Downward if You Want to Survive

To survive a reactionary climate agenda, we must address inequalities in climate funding

Since the election of Donald Trump, many people who have not previously considered themselves “activists” have begun to devote their time, energy, and their money to climate issues. In the weeks following the election, the Sierra Club, for example, gained 85,000 new donating members, constituting a bump of hundreds of thousands of dollars. While we do need more resources to fight climate change, there is a danger that the current funding bump could reinforce a preexisting, massively unequal distribution of money within the climate movement.

Protestors lie in front of bank entrancePhoto by Rainforest Action Network A file photo of Rainforst Action Network activists protesting Citibank's investments in the coal industry. Some foundations do not understand the importance of the messy, unglamorous, confrontational tactics that tend to be the purview of smaller organizations.

A great study by Sarah Hansen found that in 2009, the top 2 percent of organizations working on climate change received half of all contributions and grants. In 2014, Inside Climate News compared the membership, budget, and reach of major US environmental organizations. It showed that in 2014 the $100 million Sierra Club budget was bigger than, Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth, Credo Action and the League of Conservation Voters’ budgets combined. In that same year, the World Wildlife Fund was working with over 266 million dollars, while Conservation International had a budget of 164.8 million dollars. The Nature Conservancy blew these out of the water, reporting a budget that topped a billion dollars.

According to one high-level foundation staffer, the unequal distribution of wealth comes up again and again in environmental fundraising circles. So why hasn’t more progress been made?

Her first answer was logistical: it’s easier. Giving away a greater number of smaller grants means hiring more program staff. It is also often more difficult for funders to evaluate smaller organizations and to be confident in the fiscal oversight and longevity of grassroots groups. The second answer is access: If you don’t have the capacity to seek out funders, then how would they even know you exist?

The climate movement is less effective as a result of these institutional patterns.

The concentration of wealth narrows the tactics of the movement as a whole. Some foundations do not understand the importance of grassroots organizing. For some, a background in business — where being loud or abrasive is not rewarded — may bias them against an outside game …more

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Trump Expected to Pull Out of Paris Climate Deal

Move would be 'a foolish mistake,' say environmentalists

If White House sources are to be trusted, it appears that Donald Trump is all set to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement. The long-expected move by a president who has called global warming a hoax created by the Chinese is sure to further worsen the United States’ relationship with its allies.

photo of G7 summit 2017photo courtesy ofG7 Summit ItalyOn the heels of his first trip abroad as president, Donald Trump appears ready to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement.

The president had refused to endorse the accord during the G7 summit last week, despite pressure from Europe, Canada, and Japan, a move that led German Chancellor Angela Merkel to comment that the discussions “had been very difficult and not to say very unsatisfactory.”

According to Reuters, Trump neither confirmed nor denied the news in a post on Twitter, saying only, "I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days."

If the US does eventually pull out of the historic 2015 global deal that seeks to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow down climate change, it will be in league with only two other countries that haven’t signed on to the agreement — Syria and Nicaragua. The US had committed to reducing its emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

A pullout isn’t going to receive much support from Americans either. A recent Yale Program on Climate Change Communication poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans, including a majority in all 50 states, support the US participating in the Paris Agreement.

Environmental groups have, naturally, criticized the reported decision by the Trump administration.

"Trump's pullout is a foolish mistake; yet another of his self-inflicted wounds against the advice of his own advisors," says David Phillips, executive director of Earth Island Institute (the publisher of Earth Island Journal). “The US will be rightly seen as a global outcast, abandoning the global scientific consensus that the climate crisis must be reversed. Meanwhile, the effort for clean, renewable energy continues to gather strength — with or without the US." 

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune commented along similar lines. “This is a decision that will cede America’s role internationally to nations like China and India, which will benefit handsomely from embracing the booming clean energy economy while Trump seeks to drive our country back into the nineteenth century,” he said in a statement.

Most analysts …more

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US Army Veterans Find Peace in Protecting Rhinos from Poaching

In South Africa, former soldiers are fighting both the illegal wildlife trade and the twin scourges of unemployment and PTSD

The sun has set over the scrubby savannah. The moon is full. It is time for Ryan Tate and his men to go to work. In camouflage fatigues, they check their weapons and head to the vehicles.

Somewhere beyond the ring of light cast by the campfire, out in the vast dark expanse of thornbushes, baobab trees, rocks and grass, are the rhinos. Somewhere, too, may be the poachers who will kill them to get their precious horns.

photo of rhinos in South Africaphoto Frye MaelVeterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife is employing American veterans in the fight to protect South Africa's rhinos.

The job of Tate, a 32-year-old former US Marine, and the group of US military veterans he has assembled in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa is simple: keep the rhinos and the rest of the game in the bush around their remote base alive.

The men are not mercenaries, or park rangers — they work for Tate’s Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife (Vetpaw), a US-based nonprofit organization funded by private donations. All have seen combat, often with elite military units, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Though equipped with vehicles, trail bikes, assault rifles, sniper suits, and radios, the most important weapons in the war against poaching, Tate believes, are the skills and experiences his team gained on successive deployments in conflict zones over the last decade and a half.

“We are here for free. We are not going anywhere. Whether it is cold or hot, day or night ... we want to work with anyone who needs help,” Tate says.

The initiative is not without controversy. Some experts fear “green militarization” and an arms race between poachers and gamekeepers. Others believe deploying American former soldiers to fight criminals in South Africa undermines the troubled country’s already fragile state.

But the scale of the challenge of protecting South Africa’s rhinos is clear to everyone, with a rise in poaching in recent years threatening to reverse conservation gains made over decades.

Though rhino horns are made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails, a kilo is worth up to $65,000. The demand comes from East Asia, where rhino horn is seen as a potent natural medicine and status symbol, and is met by international networks linking dirt-poor villages in southern more

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How Our Freedom to Eat Whatever We Want Violates the Animals We Consume

Constraints on Farm Animal Freedoms: Confronting the Surreal

It may seem bizarre to talk about freedom in the context of food animals or to suggest that certain “more humane” alterations to their captive environment, like Temple Grandin’s stairway to heaven, could possibly make them happy. Yet it is worthwhile exploring freedom in this realm, as surreal as it might seem. We’ll see, for starters, that violations of the Five Freedoms are rampant.

photo of chickens raised for slaughterphoto Farm SanctuaryChickens being raised for meat. When densely housed, hens peck at each other and pull out feathers. 

The Five Freedoms are a set of guiding welfare principles drawn up in 1965 in the Brambell Report. These include freedom from fear, hunger, distress, and pain, and the freedom to engage in at least some species-specific behavior. (For example, birds must be able to stretch their wings) Adherence to these animal welfare goals is not enforced and violations do not incur punishment but are, rather, fully accepted as the cost of doing business. Additionally, because the Five Freedoms are typically understood, as by the Brambell Report, as unachievable ideals, failure to achieve them is viewed as inevitable. What happens, then, is that welfare science focuses on minor improvements to caging systems or slaughterhouse design, without really examining the serious deprivations and constraints to freedom that our food-production systems, and our eating habits, impose on sentient creatures. We may proclaim that we should have the freedom to eat whatever we want, but this proclamation sounds mighty selfish in the context of a discussion of how profoundly we violate animals destined for our stomachs.

Animals in intensive-farming systems have essentially no freedom. They are confined to small cages or crates, or else they are packed into a large space with so many others of their kind that physical movement is highly constrained. Their biological development is controlled by us: they are genetically manipulated to develop in certain ways (nearly always physically deforming and painful) and given highly processed and regularized “feed” (to be distinguished from “food”) to promote quick growth and fatten them up. They certainly don’t have freedom to live a natural lifespan, as nearly all food animals are slaughtered while young, which may be a blessing.

In addition to physical constraints, food animals are unable, for a variety of reasons, to engage in normal behaviors, as individuals and as social beings. They have little to no control over social interactions and attachments. Either they are isolated, or they are housed in …more

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Close to Home

Climate change is a threat to my family history, my home, and my heritage

Fighting climate change is about trying to change probabilities. The probability that a species will go extinct; the probability that powerful storms will drive people from their homes; the probability that coastal landscapes as we know them will be disfigured. I became aware of climate change because I was a conservation biologist, driven to stop the current mass extinction. While this goal still motivates me every day, I have found a more personal connection to the problems of climate change — I am one of millions of Americans whose lives and histories have been attached to the coast.

Boston skylinePhoto by Bill DamonLongfellow Bridge across the Charles River that connects Cambridge and Boston. Cambridge is one of many places along the east coast that are simultaneously connected to the author's family history and imperiled by climate change.

When I was 23, my favorite part of the day occurred around 7 a.m. each morning when I was taking the train on the red line into Cambridge, the city where I was born. The train would cross over the Charles River via the Longfellow Bridge as the sun rose and its light began to sparkle across the water. As I would watch the boats from the windows of the train car, I’d enjoy my brief personal paradise. Cambridge is one of many places along the coast that are simultaneously connected to my family history and imperiled by climate change.

If you get off the train shortly after crossing the Charles, you’ll find yourself by the campus of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), the school every aspiring science nerd dreams of attending. Back when my father was in college, he used to visit his high school friend here and study in the library. My father-in-law attended MIT for his doctorate in chemistry. Even if you never set foot on campus, some of its landmarks, especially the iconic Great Dome, may be familiar to you, especially if you’ve watched Good Will Hunting.

Should the sea level rise to the levels expected by the end of the century, much of MIT’s campus will be underwater.

Sitting on the red line a little longer will bring you to Harvard square. Harvard is where my story as an activist really begins. While I was intensely interested in climate change and had already made the decision to study it, it wasn’t until my friend and prominent activist Chloe Maxmin handed me a flier: “Care about climate change? Want …more

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